Sunday, July 12, 2009

City Council Meetings Still begin at 6 p.m. for the Time Being; City-Owned Property Sales: No "Windfall" for the Pension Fund

Nor will incremental sales tax revenues represent "a windfall" in the short term; it's all in the measurin' stick used

I was looking over this article in the "Springfield News-Leader" Sunday morning, and thought I would share a little fact picked up at a recent City Council luncheon.

Contained in the article is information pertaining to the sale of surplus City owned property, a small portion of which, said Deputy City Manager Evelyn Honea, would actually be eligible to benefit the police and fire pension fund because, revenue gained from such sales rarely may apply to the general fund. Any contribution on the part of the City to the pension fund has general revenue as its source.

But, back to my first point, which isn't an earth shaking revelation but, certainly worth noting.

The article reminded readers, who might want to be present for the discussion pertaining to the 900 City owned properties, that:

"The meeting starts at 6 p.m. but public hearings begin an hour later."

In an earlier, June 23, City news-release, plans to hold the Monday night meetings, beginning at 6 p.m. rather than the usual 7 p.m. start time, were announced. Mayor Jim O'Neal said the Council would try the new time for two months, and later decide if they wanted to continue the meetings with the start time of 6 p.m. or return to a 7 p.m. time schedule.

After the first meeting's trial of the 6 p.m. start time, however, there was a general consensus of the City Council to NOT continue that trial 6 p.m. start time after the trial period had run its course.

Bottom line: Those wanting to attend City Council meetings on Monday evenings should expect them to continue to start at 6 p.m., for the time being, until it is announced otherwise, however, if the Council does not change its mind between now and the end of the two month trial period, we can expect the Council will return to the historic 7 p.m. meeting start time.

Pension Fund "Windfalls" Elusive

A secondary, and perhaps more earth shaking subject, is the subject of the surplus properties which could be sold to the benefit of the general fund, and, in turn, be eligible for placement into the police and fire pension fund.

Honea has stated all along that of the, now known, 900 City owned properties, few of them will be eligible for use to benefit the pension plan if sold but, still unknown is the actual number of city owned properties which could be sold to benefit that plan.

Unclear is the percentage rate of the 900 properties, and the total amount of acres to which Honea refers. Often, City Managers and City Council members kick around figures they have been conditioned to think are miniscule amounts, and perhaps they are small amounts if taken case by case but, as a whole?

When Ms. Honea tells a newspaper reporter such property sales are, "...certainly not going to be a windfall for the pension fund," I'm inclined to want more facts before I am ready to agree. Honea's definition of a "windfall" and Joe and Josephine Public's definitions of a "windfall" might be two different things. I suspect it's easy to lose site of that when one is used to adjusting a City government budget representing millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

At the June 29 Council meeting, Council approved the ongoing acceptance of donations to the pension fund from "Blue Noodle LLC" with the passage of Council Bill 2009-149:

"Representatives of the Blue Noodle LLC have expressed a desire to make periodic donations to the City of Springfield Police Officers and Fire Fighters Retirement System."

Most of the citizens of this City would see these periodic donations as a step in the right direction, although it might be said they represent no windfall for the pension fund.

The Pension Task Force will likely recommend some sort of sales tax to the Council for their consideration, maybe even more than one sales tax option. None of those sales taxes will represent a "windfall" for the pension fund, depending upon how they are characterized. As a monthly sales tax contribution they will seem like miniscule amounts, no doubt, but, as a plan over the course of 5 or 10 years, the sales tax revenue has a chance of making a real difference in the funded ratio of the pension fund.

As an aside, when my husband and I, ocassionally, get upside down at the bank, it isn't usually caused by us making a huge lump sum payment on a bill or for a purchase. It's the little things that nickle and dime us to death. Little things add up in reducing a bank account, little things can add up in increasing the amount of a pension fund too.

Besides all that, a "windfall" is a matter of personal perspective, in my opinion.


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